February 21, 1989
Berkeley City Council
Attn: Mayor Loni Hancock
2180 Milvia Street
Berkeley, California 94704
Re: I-80 Widening
I am disturbed by your considering a compromise with Caltrans on their I-80 widening project. We cannot afford to compromise with our health and our environment. Without those, nothing else matters! We must send Caltrans and everyone else the clear message that freeway expansion is no longer an acceptable solution to any transportation problem.
The Bay Area fails to meet both state and federal air quality standards, and is predicted to start getting worse again. It is clear that widening the freeway (increasing its vehicle capacity, as opposed to its people- and goods-carrying capacity) will worsen the air, and make it impossible to meet those standards.
We are said to have only a 30 years' supply of oil left. We are using that up at an increasing rate. Freeway expansion increases urban sprawl, dependence on the automobile, and hence the rate of fuel consumption.
The Greenhouse Effect is caused to a large extent (40%) by the automobile. The expense of delay on the highway cannot compare with the costs of the Greenhouse Effect. The former, we can live with; the latter will kill us.
If air pollution and the Greenhouse Effect doesn't kill us, the Ozone Depletion will. It has been increasing even more that was predicted. Now not only the Antarctic, but the Arctic ozone layer as well is threatened. Are we next? The automobile (due to its use of air conditioning) is a large factor in the Ozone Depletion.
It's clear that Caltrans won't voluntarily stop its destructive policies. Besides I-80, it has plans to widen practically every other freeway in the Bay Area, including some roads that aren't even freeways yet! If we don't draw the line at I-80, where will we draw the line? Are we going to wait until the Bay Area is indistinguishable from Los Angeles, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Phoenix, and all other "automobile cities"? Freeway widenings are already underway on I-680 and I-101. Widening of I-680 in Walnut Creek is to start in a few days, with "brush clearing" (i.e., destruction of natural, beautiful vegetation). Only a lawsuit can stop this madness.
Alan Waltner (an Oakland environmental attorney) has said that he could conduct a suit under the Clean Air Act, that has at least a 50% chance of success, for $25,000. Most of that could be raised from existing environmental organizations. In order to stop I-80, we don't even need to win the suit! All we have to do is delay the project until the funds are cut off and diverted to some other project. Of course, we believe that we can win, and we want to stop all other freeway expansion projects as well.
By negotiating with Berkeley as it has, Caltrans has in effect admitted that they can't widen the freeway without Berkeley and Emeryville's consent. Please don't bargain away our future. Please hold out for exactly what we originally requested: No Freeway Expansion, and Use of the Money for Rail Transit and Other Environmentally Superior Alternatives. Los Gatos has just joined Berkeley and Emeryville (they voted unanimously not to allow any I-85 freeway interchange in Los Gatos). The longer we can hold out, the more people will join us. Because there is really no other choice!
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.